Perhaps you built your design business as a one-person endeavor or a small operation of just a few people. So how do you know when it’s time to hire help? What are the key positions to create first? Is it more prudent to bring on a contractor before hiring someone full time? And why is expanding staff necessary? We asked two interior designers, who own their own design studios, these questions and more to find out why, when, and how they knew it was time to hire help at their design businesses.

Why Should an Interior Designer Hire Help?

An interior designer may have launched their design studio because of their love of designing and passion for delivering these designs to satisfied clients—not because they sought to become adept at accounting or bookkeeping. Oftentimes the tedium of running a business detracts from an interior designer’s time designing and seeking out new clients. That’s when hiring support helps.

“I started my business with just me, and I did everything,” explains Studio Designer client and Los Angeles-based designer Jen Dallas. “There came a time when I simply couldn’t do it all. I felt too stretched. I needed to step out of that mindset [of just doing it all myself] and have a clear vision for how I wanted my business to grow and be more profitable. That included hiring more people to accomplish more work.”

Anna Popov had a similar experience when she founded her design studio, Interiors by Popov, in Bellevue, Washington. “I started my company on my own and very soon realized that, if I am going to be the one that will design and run all the projects, I will have no time to pursue new business nor will I have time for strategic business development,” Popov explains. “As a solo entrepreneur, I realized that if I hired a junior designer, I could delegate some of the tasks to free up my time. Not to mention, the tasks I delegate are professional design tasks that are billable to the client. So that the new hire didn’t cost me money but rather made me money.” And it’s that type of business-minded thinking that enables a small design firm to flourish.

How Do You Know It’s Time?

Bright and spacious living room
Design by Interiors by Popov | Photographer: John Granen

“There are indicators such as your studio starts to put in too many hours working. Your life starts to feel out of balance. It is one thing to have a busy couple of weeks, but when the busyness doesn’t stop it’s time to consider hiring,” Dallas suggests. “There comes a point when you need to delegate. It’s my responsibility to myself and my clients to have the support I need to serve my projects well.”

Similarly, Popov notes, “When you, as a designer, feel like all your time is spent on either design tasks or project execution with no time left for business development, that’s a red flag.”

“When you have your own firm, your job is designing and working directly with clients,” Dallas adds. “A principal’s job is also networking and bringing on new projects. When I am too busy doing the tasks, I should be delegating, I know it is time to hire someone to join my team.”

What Hiring Strategy Works Best?

Spacious living room with a orange stone ceiling
Design by Jen Dallas | Photo by Steven Rimlinger

Popov stresses that hiring is a very important decision. “You take on the tremendous responsibility of consistently providing someone’s income,” she offers. “Prior to making the decision to hire for a permanent full-time position, think twice about whether you are able to fulfill that massive responsibility. If in doubt, go with a temporary contract.”

She explains that as her business was getting established, her first few hires were contract positions. “I’ve always been very conservative with my hiring,” she admits, “and so far, it’s been very successful. Even through the pandemic, with a major drop in projects, I didn’t have to consider letting go of a single employee.”

Dallas suggests, “Hiring someone as a contractor is helpful to make sure they are a good fit and also get your feet wet with taking someone on if you are unsure. It is important to make sure the hire blends well with your culture.”

What Are the Crucial Positions to Fill First?

Interior designer choosing the materials

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to hiring, so it’s critical for each interior designer to evaluate the most pressing company needs. Dallas posits, “What parts of the job can you delegate? Would hiring a bookkeeper help you from staying up too late doing billing?” Dallas says that she found hiring an assistant when she was starting her design studio was most helpful, followed by a bookkeeper. “Those two key positions really helped to keep my business running smoothly,” she offers.

Popov has a different perspective regarding hiring: She chose to fill positions for which she could invoice her clients first. “An assistant is not an expense that you can issue to clients. So, hiring an assistant would be an out-of-pocket expense,” she explains. “I didn’t hire an assistant until four to five years in.”

She continues, “As your business becomes more established, outsourcing becomes more crucial. It allows you to hire the best professional for the job and frees up your time from tasks that someone else can do better, such as accounting, payroll, HR, marketing, graphic design, and website design.”

Advice on the Hiring Process

Based on her experience, Popov advises, “Sometimes I outsource work or find that a temporary contract position is sufficient. If considering a full-time position, I first look at my financial forecast for the six quarters ahead. I will only proceed if the current level of work is projected to continue or increase.”

As her architecture and interior design studio expands into product design, Dallas says she plans to build her team “to support all of the directions my business is headed.” She adds, “It brings me joy, hiring the right people who can flourish as part of my team. It can be daunting trying to find the right person, but when you do your business will thrive.”

Two people using the Studio Designer app

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Studio Designer is the leading digital platform for Interior Designers managing and growing their design businesses. Featuring fully integrated project management, time billing, product sourcing, and accounting solutions for the interior design industry.

Featured image and stock images: Courtesy of Shutterstock